Professional wrestling, or simply wrestling, is a form of wrestling and athletic theatrical performance wherein athletic performers portray prizefighters competing in matches with predetermined, scripted outcomes. It is based on classical and "catch" wrestling, with modern additions of striking attacks, acrobatics, feats of strength, fast-moving athleticism and occasionally, improvised weaponry. The performances are all predetermined (if not rigidly choreographed) to maximize the entertainment value to the audience, and reduce the chances of the performers suffering real-life injuries, like concussions, that could end their career. Professional wrestling also liberally incorporates melodrama. Much like some of the real prizefighters they imitate, the characters in professional wrestling have large egos, flamboyant personalities (often attached to a gimmick), and turbulent interpersonal relationships. These personas are generally scripted, the same as the matches. Performances mainly take place in a ring similar to the kind used in boxing (a sort of theater in the round). In the modern age of televised entertainment, many additional "backstage" scenes are also recorded to supplement the drama in the ring. Because of its history in athletic performance and theater, professional wrestling is commonly described as sport, entertainment and performing art. Likewise with the professional wrestlers, they tend to be considered athletes, entertainers and performers.
A professional wrestling match in 1938: two wrestlers grapple in a wrestling ring while a referee (in white) looks on
|Descendant arts||Shoot wrestling|
|Originating era||19th century|
Professional wrestling in the United States and the United Kingdom began in the 19th century and early 20th century as a genuine competitive sport (shoot matches, as insiders call them) based on Greco-Roman wrestling and later the more popular catch wrestling but, around the early 1920s, wrestlers began choreographing some of their matches (worked matches or performance matches) to make the matches less physically taxing, shorter in duration, and more entertaining for spectators. This allowed the wrestlers to perform more frequently and attracted larger audiences (and revenues) for promoters. Shoot matches still existed well into the 1930s but far less frequently. This business model was very successful and was imitated in other countries, with particular success in Mexico and Japan. Historically, professional wrestlers tended to have a strong background in amateur wrestling or catch wrestling, but this gradually faded over the years and promotors began attracting athletes from other sports. Modern day pro wrestlers do not necessarily need an amateur background to succeed in the sport. However, many pro wrestlers still consider a solid amateur background to be beneficial before embarking on a professional career.
For a long time, those in the wrestling industry's notoriously insular community would not admit their "sport" was just theater, as the suspension of disbelief and kayfabe were crucial to the fans' enjoyment (and therefore, also crucial to performers' and promoters' livelihoods). Nowadays (in the United States, at least) it is normal for the wrestlers and promoters to either partially or completely acknowledge wrestling's essence as predetermined entertainment to the public. This development occurred upon promoters learning in the 1980s that the fans don't mind if the wrestlers break character "off-stage".